Govt. moots easier clearance for forest land use

No prior nod will be needed for security, border infra projects under changes to Forest Conservation Act

October 04, 2021 10:13 pm | Updated 10:13 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Kaziranga, Assam, 26-03-2018: A tourist road inside the Kaziranga National Park in Bokakhat district of Assam on26 March 2018. Indian forest authorities began two day long rhino census at the world-famous Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam on 26th March 2018.According to the officials Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been divided into 74 compartments for the census, which is being carried out by a team of 300 government and non-government organisation officials. The sanctuary, which hosts two-thirds of the worlds great one-horned rhinoceroses, is also home to large breeding populations of tigers, elephants, wild water buffalo, wild boar and swamp deer. Photo:Ritu Raj Konwar

Kaziranga, Assam, 26-03-2018: A tourist road inside the Kaziranga National Park in Bokakhat district of Assam on26 March 2018. Indian forest authorities began two day long rhino census at the world-famous Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern state of Assam on 26th March 2018.According to the officials Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been divided into 74 compartments for the census, which is being carried out by a team of 300 government and non-government organisation officials. The sanctuary, which hosts two-thirds of the worlds great one-horned rhinoceroses, is also home to large breeding populations of tigers, elephants, wild water buffalo, wild boar and swamp deer. Photo:Ritu Raj Konwar

The government has proposed absolving agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projects from obtaining prior forest clearance from the Centre as part of amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act (FCA). The FCA that first came in 1980 and was amended in 1988, requires such permission.

The proposed amendment is part of a larger rationalising of existing forest laws, the government has said. The document is open to public discussion for 15 days after which it could be readied for Cabinet and Parliamentary approval.

There is also a plan in the document that is now available on the MoEF website, to exempt land acquired before 1980 — before the FCA came into effect — by public sector bodies such as the Railways. Currently, the document notes, there was “strong resentment” among several ministries on how the Act was being interpreted over the right of way of railways, highways.

As of today a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc) is required to take approval under the Act as well as pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes.

Wide-ranging changes

The Environment Ministry also proposes adding a clause to make punishments under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable. They also propose provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damages already done to trees in forest land.

The document also proposes removing zoos, safaris, Forest Training infrastructures from the definition of “non-forestry” activities. The current definition restricts the way money collected as part of compensatory cess can be spent towards forest conservation purposes.

Previous attempts to amend acts linked to forest laws have been controversial.

There was a plan to amend the Indian Forest Act, 1927, that deals with the rights of forest dwellers, in an attempt to address contemporary challenges to the country’s forests. The draft law had been sent to key forest officers in the States for soliciting comments and objections.

It drew flak from activists as well as tribal welfare organisations. The government withdrew the draft and has said that a newer updated version was on the anvil.

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